Whenever royals are involved, the full intricacies of Vatican dress code protocol come to light. Generally speaking, when meeting the Pope ladies are requested to dress modestly in black and cover their heads (often with a veil or mantilla); protocol allows a select group of women to dress in white, which is called privilège du blanc, and we'll get to that in a bit. A visit to the Pope used to see some seriously formal outfits (long black gowns and veils often worn with tiaras and orders for royal ladies, and full uniforms or white tie with orders for the royal men), but as with many dress codes, things have gotten less formal. These days you see an increasing number of suits or day dresses. And if it's not even black, well, fine.
Because this is, at the end of the day, etiquette and not law. It is inherently open to interpretation, and can change at any time. It's also open for confusion. (I have a personal theory on all issues of protocol, by the way: just when you think you've got the "rules" down, you will find an example to contradict you. Therefore, by the transitive property of meh, you shouldn't worry about it too much.)
Anyway, usually these dress code issues are sorted out by a note on the invitation - except there were no invitations handed out for Tuesday's inaugural papal mass (those that wanted to come were welcome, said the Vatican). So there was no specific official dress code to abide by or to break, and what we ended up with was kind of a review of the changing Vatican dress code over time. A Vatican Variety Pack, if you will.
|Left: the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg with Prince Félix behind them. Right: the King and Queen of the Belgians|
|The Prince and Princess of Asturias|
Charlene showed up in white, and the Vatican press office backed her up, stating that she was allowed to dress in white in line with the ceremonial for Catholic sovereigns. I had hoped that the Princess of Liechtenstein would be in attendance at the inaugural mass to see if she too now has privilège du blanc, but the Hereditary Prince and Princess were there instead (and she, of course, was in black). Charlene was in black too, which caused even more confusion. Of course, those with the privilège du blanc can wear black if they like (Luxarazzi has a nice post on this too, showing Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte opting to wear black), but it is a little odd that she would opt out of the privilege for such an important event.
|The Prince of Orange and Princess Máxima of the Netherlands|
|The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester|
Do you see what I mean? So many things going on, it's barely worth trying to figure it out. (Some of you are tut-tutting me right now, insistent that things are concrete, and there are hard rules. And that's the way chats about protocol go!) Whatever the "rules" may be, I always do appreciate an opportunity to see a dress code that's a little out of the ordinary - especially when it involves inherently elegant mantillas.
P.S.: Some of you have requested a chat about the Our Queen documentary, and you can head over to the Jewel Vault for that!
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Photos: Getty Images/Reuters